Backbreaking Work: The Ergonomics of RadiologyBackbreaking work

As diagnostic radiologists, we are often perceived as having less physically demanding jobs than many of our colleagues in other specialties. We are not rounding for hours, constantly bending over to examine patients, or standing at an operating table for marathon surgeries.

However, just because many of us spend the majority of our days seated, this does not mean that we are immune from developing work-related body pain/fatigue. Our residency program recently had the opportunity to learn the best ways to reduce work-related discomfort from an ergonomics expert. I would like to pass along some of his most important tips for a healthy career.

Most importantly, it is imperative to incorporate movement into your daily routine. While this may seem difficult given ever-increasing study volumes and expectations for short turnaround times, taking small breaks every 30-60 minutes greatly reduces risk for work-related discomfort. Seemingly trivial tasks such as walking to a printer down the hall instead of using one at your workstation, or getting up to discuss a case with a colleague as opposed to calling her on the phone, serve to minimize sustained positioning and give the body time to recover.

Counter-strain stretching is also a very helpful tool. This method involves stretching in the opposite direction of your sustained position. For a radiologist seated at a computer for the majority of the day, this includes extending the back and neck, as well as pinching the shoulder blades together. A trick to promote movement even while continuing to read studies is to arrange your desk to passively promote bilateral reaching and turning. Even these small movements to reach your coffee can help to reduce the fatigue of otherwise static muscles.

While the above micro-breaks are exceptionally important, radiologists still face the problem of maintaining a fixed position for prolonged periods of time. Since this is unavoidable, it is important to maintain good posture. This means tailoring your workstation to optimize body mechanics. Adjust the chair height so your seated elbow height is at the same level as the desk height. Maintain 90-degree angles in your hips, knees, and ankles. Keep the spine in neutral position, with your lower back against a lumbar support to preserve the natural curvature. Your eyes should be level with the top third of the computer monitor. When possible, armrests should be used to reduce static shoulder loading. Footrests can also be used for support. Many workstations offer the opportunity to convert to a standing desk. In this case, the desk height should be set to at or slightly below standing elbow height and the monitor positioned approximately 20-28 inches from the eyes. Switching between sitting and standing throughout the workday is also a good technique to prevent discomfort from maintaining one position for prolonged periods.

Although reading studies may not be perceived as a physically strenuous activity, sustained static positioning does put radiologists at risk for work-related fatique, discomfort and pain. Allowing for short breaks for movement and stretching, along with maintaining good posture, are all critical elements to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


By Frances Lazarow, MD, 2nd year radiology resident at Eastern Virginia Medical School

Content for this post was derived from a lecture given by Sean Henry, a certified ergonomic assessment specialist with Tidewater Physical Therapy in Virginia.

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